10 Nov 2013
“Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to [Jesus] and asked Him a question …” (Luke 20:27)
In the name …
This past week I participated in our annual diocesan clergy retreat. I don’t know if any of you remember the Grants Department Stores from a generation ago. We used to have one in Westfield. I don’t know if they were up in this area or not. W.T. Grant, the owner, had built himself a beautiful summer cottage, as the rich folk called them, right on Long Island Sound down in Madison, CT. Either he or the family then willed the estate to the Roman Catholic Church and they now run it as a retreat center. We held our sessions in a room that had a wall of windows looking out on the Sound. The chapel where we held worship was adorned with a floor to ceiling painting of a white rose with pronounced thorns and with a subtle imagery of the cross behind it. It was refreshing to think of the crucifixion as not only torture and pain because of us sinners, but as a beautiful sign of God’s love for us His children. And God was also kind to us as the weather outside was beautiful. I was able to watch the sunrise from the beach. I spent most of my afternoon reading on a little deck off my room where I could hear the ocean waves.
But this was a retreat and not a vacation. It was a chance to get out of our routine, to retreat from daily life, and to give Jesus a chance to be heard a bit more clearly. For priests I think this is absolutely essential. This is why the parish and the diocese invest in retreats. This is why pastors clear their schedules. But for many of the faithful, retreats will never be experienced. If any of you may be interested in giving it a try, let me know. Maybe we could do something as a small group from our parish. But for the majority of Holy Name, the chance to get away from the world and how much it demands of us is right here and right now. These few moments stolen away from a week of job, chores, errands, family, hassles and even that greatest time-sucker of all them all – the television is for many of us our only chance to retreat from everything else and to give Jesus a chance to speak.
Bp. Hodur once bravely commented that “the church does not save the person.” (Hodur Second Edition, p. 28) This statement is attributed to the very first years of our denomination and it is no less true today. Church can’t do the work for us. Hodur said that the church “sanctifies” the person, which is radically different than “saves” the person. The church offers the opportunity of bringing Jesus and us together. Church gives us the needed hand to find and follow Christ. Church lets our souls breathe and our conscience develop. Church is where we touch the holy and become holier. Church is what we make of it.
My father has been clearing out some drawers in his house and my sister and I have been receiving a bunch of old photographs as he does so. I now have one of Denise and me at some amusement park as little kids. We’re riding in a car, but the car is moving along a track. As a child you can imagine that you’re in control by turning the wheel or hitting the accelerator, but you’re just there for the ride. You don’t control anything. I think what Hodur is trying to tell us is that church is not that kind of child’s ride. We can’t just plop ourselves in the pew and let church take us where it wants to go. Church can’t do it for us. Church can’t save us, but church can sanctify us, can turn us toward the holy. In this way our time here is our retreat. Some may be inspired by the liturgy, others by the community, maybe it’s song or word, maybe it’s sacrament or prayer, sometimes maybe it’s just the quiet, but church gives us the chance to retreat from everything else and reconnect with Jesus.
As I walked down the hallway outside of my room at the retreat center I repeatedly encountered a wall-hanging that read: “That which you are seeking is causing you to seek.” Don’t think that you have come here just because of yourself. It’s not only habit or family or guilt or even piety that brings us here. It is also Jesus. “That which you are seeking is causing you to seek.” So talk to Him, but also listen for Him. Reach out to Jesus, but also let Him touch you. Don’t let everything about church be pre-ordained. That’s what Hodur was getting at when he said the church can’t save she can sanctify. We’re not on the little kids car ride. Let us learn from today’s Gospel. The Sadducees didn’t believe in eternal life because it’s not spoken of in the Mosaic Law. They came to Jesus with a preconceived order. The Jewish scribes, on the other hand, commended Jesus for His answer in favour of eternal life because that’s where they were coming from. They both turned to Jesus to validate what they already thought, and in that way they completely ignored Jesus.
I go to retreats with one book – the Bible. I read the Bible every day, but I don’t have a lot of opportunities to read long portions of the Bible at one sitting. And that makes a difference. But in this beautiful retreat center, on one of the shelves in its library, was an old beat-up, yellowed copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I haven’t read those poems since high school. I read them again, and they became one of the most important voices of Jesus to me at the retreat. It was unplanned and unexpected. That is also the potential, promise and joy of coming to this place of retreat. We’re not on the track so we don’t know where today’s Mass will take us. Mass isn’t the liturgy I do for you. It’s what you do with the liturgy. Church can’t save, it can’t do it for you, it can sanctify, it can turn you toward the holy. Leave yourself open to Jesus here. Leave yourself vulnerable to Jesus here. He doesn’t always say we’re exceptional, but He always reminds us that we’re accepted. Maybe we should talk about a parish retreat for the few who may be interested, but everyone of us should cherish this time, place and people as our weekly retreat back to Christ. Let us pray that we’re not today’s Sadducees and scribes with our preconceived notions. Let us pray to be open to Jesus who comes to us in this sacred opportunity of the Mass. In His name we ask this. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo